Keeping backyard chickens is a fun and exciting experience. One of the biggest considerations to make when keeping backyard chickens, though, is the chicken coop itself. There are a few different housing options for backyard chickens. Here are a few key things to know before building a chicken coop.
(This is the third post in our Raising Chickens 101 series.)
Coops can be purchased online for between $150 to $200. A second-hand coop can be purchased for even less.
However, for those that are particularly handy, building a chicken coop from scratch can be an extremely cost-effective option. It can also serve as a fun DIY project. That being said, there are a few considerations that need to be made before building a chicken coop from scratch.
Coop Design and Location
In terms of design, there are almost an infinite number of choices for a backyard chicken coop.
- Some backyard chicken keepers choose to build a simple structure for a coop. Others choose to use existing structures, such as a garden shed, and build on to it for a chicken coop. According to Texas A&M University, there are a wide variety of options for the design and layout of the coop itself. As long as the coop is structurally sound and contains nesting boxes, roosts, and space for a feeder and waterer, just about any design will do.
- The location of the coop in the backyard is important to consider in order to maintain coop hygiene and protect the birds themselves. A chicken coop should be built on high ground so to avoid flooding or any buildup of water and moisture. According to Oregon State University, it is a wise idea to build a coop relatively close to one’s home or in a highly trafficked area of the yard to deter from unwanted predators. Building a coop away from large plants and lots of foliage that can help shelter predators will also help keep a backyard flock safe.
Another important thing to think about before building a chicken coop from scratch is how big the coop needs to be. Building a coop that is large enough for the number of birds is crucial to think about but is sometimes overlooked.
Overcrowding in a chicken coop can lead to a multitude of issues among a backyard flock. For instance, overcrowding typically causes chickens to fight more, meaning the birds at the bottom of the pecking order will likely have limited access to food and water and may even exhibit cuts and peck marks on their bodies. Overcrowding in a coop also means a buildup of fecal matter and bacteria in a coop, meaning the chances of parasites of insects entering the coop and making the birds sick is much higher.
According to the University of Georgia, most breeds of chickens require at least three square feet of room in a coop per bird if outdoor range space is available. However, to be safe, most backyard chicken owners give their birds between three and five square feet of room per bird. If there is no outdoor range space available, chickens should have more room inside the coop to spread out. Between eight to ten square feet of room per bird is recommended for those without outdoor range space.
Something to consider before building a chicken coop is the type of material that will be used to build the structure. While there are plenty of options in terms of the materials a coop is built from, some options are better than others.
For example, Virginia Cooperative Extension recommends using plywood for a backyard chicken coop. Plywood is not only relatively cheap but is extremely durable as well. Furthermore, plywood is easy to cut holes and windows in to provide a backyard flock with plenty of ventilation inside the coop.
For the coop walls in open-air sections of the coop, it’s a good idea to purchase heavy-gauge mesh wire. This wire fencing needs to be durable and strong enough so birds cannot break through the fencing and predators cannot break into the coop through the fence.
One of the most important considerations to make when building a chicken coop from scratch is how to secure a flock from the threat of predators. Some of the biggest threats to backyard chickens include raccoons, coyotes, dogs, and even snakes. Some types of snakes like to eat chicks and may attempt to slither between the coop walls and the ground to access backyard chickens.
To ensure that snakes and other predators cannot break into a coop from underneath, it’s important to build the coop several inches off the ground, ideally on a slab of concrete. In addition to building the coop a few inches off of the ground, the wire fencing of the coop walls should be buried a few inches into the dirt to further deter snakes and predators that may dig underneath.
Some predators that pose threats to backyard chickens are less likely to dig underneath the coop walls. These predators may take a more conventional approach and try to break into a chicken coop through the coop door. Because of this, it’s a good idea to ensure that the door of the chicken coop is especially secure. Some backyard chicken owners even choose to purchase an automatic coop door. Automatic chicken coop doors are great because not only are they strong and secure, but they operate on a timer so there is little to no risk of forgetting to close and lock the coop door at night.
Designing & Planning Your Chicken Coop
While keeping backyard chickens is a project in itself, building a chicken coop from scratch can be a fulfilling and fun project as well.
And luckily, there are very few wrong ways to build a coop. As long as the structure of the coop is strong and sturdy, there is plenty of ventilation in the coop, the coop is large enough and the chickens are sufficiently protected from predators, just about any coop design will work. So get creative!
The housing for your chickens can be as simple or fancy as your imagination and budget permit. The basic criteria will be dictated by the birds.
- Decide on the size. As mentioned above, you will need 3 or more square feet of floor space per chicken. Also, you’ll need one nest box for every three hens. Nest boxes should be about a foot square. For larger breeds such as Jersey Giants, allow an additional square foot of floor space per bird. Learn more about the sizes of different chicken breeds to figure out which size chicken coop is right for you.
- Sketch the chicken coop on paper, with measurements. (Don’t know where to start? Check the plans for any size of flock here.)
- It might also be helpful to mark the ground where the coop will be erected, taking into consideration its location relative to the sun (southern exposure ensures greater warmth and sunlight); any nearby structures (will you attach it to a garage or barn?); and the need for a run, fenced or not (more on that in a moment). Build your coop and run on high ground to avoid battling water and mud problems!
- Do not forget to include a door and a floor in the plans. A door can be as simple as a piece of plywood on a frame of 1-by-2s, with hinges and a simple latch—make it large enough for you to enter and exit easily with eggs in hand or a basket. (Learn how to collect your eggs to determine what you’ll need). A dirt floor is perfectly adequate. However, as discussed above, we prefer a coop six inches off the ground, ideally on a slab of poured concrete if your time and budget allow. Also consider whether you will bring electricity into the coop: A low-watt bulb will prolong the day during winter months and keep egg production figures constant.
- Coop ventilation is more important than insulation. Plan to have openings near the ceiling for air circulation. (While chickens enjoy moderate—around 55°F—temperatures, they will survive nicely in the barn through fairly cold winters; their feathers kept them warm.) Also plan to install a couple of 1½-inch dowels across the upper part of the coop; this will enable the chickens to roost off the floor at night.
Building the Chicken Coop
- When you’re ready, bring your plans to the lumber yard. Someone there can help you determine how much stock and what tools and/or equipment you will need. Plan to frame the chicken coop with 2-by-4s and use sheets of plywood for the walls. The roof can be a sheet of plywood covered with roof shingles, or simply a piece of sheet metal.
- A 5x20-foot run will keep a small flock—six to eight hens—happy. More space is better if you have the room. If predators are a problem in your area, bury a layer of chicken wire 6 inches deep under both the coop and the run in order to foil diggers like foxes, dogs, and skunks. Mink and weasels can slip through standard 2-inch wire. To keep them out, use a couple of 2-inch layers offset or 1-inch wire instead. Plug any holes in the coop walls as well.
- You’ll need to accessorize the chicken coop, at least rudimentarily: Waterers, available from farm suppliers, keep the chickens from fouling their water supply. Get one for every three or four chickens. Also get a feed trough long enough to let all of the chickens feed at once (or get two smaller ones). Learn more about chicken feed. Have enough wood shavings (pine) or straw to put a 6-inch layer on the floor and a couple of handfuls in each nest box and your chickens will have a perfect home. Change the bedding about once a month or if it starts looking flat.
Remember, a chicken coop doesn’t need to be complicated. Our first one was a small shed built with recycled wood. The run was screened in chicken wire and built onto the side of our house. It wasn’t pretty, but it did the job. Just keep in mind the two simple rules, “Measure twice, cut once,” and “Pointy end down,” and both you and your hens will be happy.
Complete Raising Chickens Guide
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